by Charly Mann
There are many things that people in Chapel Hill disagree on, but anyone who ever ate at the Porthole restaurant will tell you that they not only had the best rolls in the world, they were to die for.
The Porthole was located on Porthole Alley, off the 100 block of East Franklin Street. There are many things that made it unique, but only their yeast rolls made them unforgettable. In the Porthole you got a menu with a checklist where you indicated what you wanted. Two things that everyone got there was their iced-tea; which may have been the sweetest in Chapel Hill, and the rolls which you got an unlimited supply of. They were also famous for their Chef Salad, but everything on the menu tasted like the best home cooked food you ever had. It was also ridiculously inexpensive. I do not recall ever spending more than $2.00 for a meal when I ate there from the early 1950s to the mid 1970s.
The Porthole Restaurant of Chapel Hill was home of the world's best ice tea and rolls
Their rolls were always warm and right out of the oven. I had a friend who called them Hot-Buttered rolls, but to me they were Porthole rolls. Bob Vermillia managed the Porthole. I think the owner lived in Durham, and had the last name of Timmons. I remember one long time waiter was named Wallace Oldham.
The Porthole Restaurant of Chapel Hill is no more and is now the Enterprise Resource Panning Department for UNC
Since the Porthole is no longer in existence, I will share a recipe that I guarantee will rekindle the tastes of those rolls. Just make sure to have some extra-sweet iced-tea on hand to drink with them. I should also warn you that the magic of these things disappears when they cool down.
· 1 cup whole milk
· 2 pkg. dry yeast
· ½ cup butter, melted
· ¼ tsp. salt
· ¼ cup sugar
· 2 eggs
· 4-1/2 to 5 cups flour
· You will also need some additional melted butter
First warm the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Mix 1/3 of the milk with the dry yeast in a small bowl and let sit until bubbly, about 15 minutes. In a large bowl, combine remaining milk, melted butter, salt and sugar and beat until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the beaten eggs and bubbly yeast.
Next add your flour, ¼ cup at a time, beating on high speed with a stand mixer. When the dough gets too stiff to beat, stir in rest of flour by hand, if necessary, to make a soft dough. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth and satiny. Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place until light and doubled in size, about 1 hour. (You can also place covered the dough in the refrigerator overnight. This works really well. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding with recipe.)
Punch down the dough and roll out on floured surface to ½” thickness. Cut with 3” round cookie cutter. Brush each roll with melted butter and fold in half to make half circles. Pinch edge lightly to hold, so the rolls don’t unfold as they rise. Place in 2 greased 13x9” pans, cover, and let rise again until double, about 45 minutes. (If you refrigerated the dough, this will take longer, about 60-75 minutes.)
Bake rolls at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan immediately and brush with more melted butter. Don’t use the same butter you used when forming the rolls - melt some fresh just for this step. Makes about 24 rolls.
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.